Jacob Haddad and Laurence Bargery had spent close to three years building a successful but niche startup to help primary care doctors (known as general practitioners in the U.K.) stay in touch with patients over text messages. The pandemic saw the pair and their startup AccuRx thrust into supporting video calls and digital consultations for nearly all the doctors’ clinics in England.
An even bigger challenge loomed for the tiny startup AccuRx when the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) turned to these family doctors in November 2020 to drive the rollout of the national Covid vaccination campaign. The same doctors had been running winter flu vaccinations for years but faced being swamped by the scale and complexity of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
“We were speaking to more and more practices that were just saying, we don’t have the tech to do this,” says Haddad, AccuRx cofounder, whose team built a booking system in two weeks to help doctors message patients, schedule appointments, and track those who had missed a jab. “They said: ‘if we ran our flu model approach with every patient calling up to book, our staff will be overwhelmed and our other services won’t be available.”
The tools built by the London-based startup were shared with doctors in December 2020 and let patients schedule their own appointments online, while helping the clinics manage the flow of vaccinations. “It became clear it’s not like running a standard appointment book; it’s like running a production line. You just want high volumes and a good steady flow of people coming,” says Haddad, who is now preparing for Britain’s plans to provide Covid-19 booster shots for 30 million people this winter.
The London-based team, which now has around 120 staff, helped book 21 million vaccinations while around 44 million people in the United Kingdom have now had two vaccine doses. The NHS launched its own vaccine booking service in January, while many other people were vaccinated this year at walk-in clinics. “The reason this has worked is that GP practices are amazing at finding a way but this has saved a lot of very, very manual work to make this happen,” says Haddad, a Forbes 30 Under 30 alum.
“We just wouldn’t have been able to cope with the quantity of patients we would have had to contact with our existing staff so this has been a massive upgrade for us, and patients,” says Adrian Down, practice manager for Caythorpe & Ancaster Medical Practice, which has around 127,000 patients in southwest Lincolnshire, in England’s East Midlands.
The AccuRx booking tool had also helped doctors keep on top of the changing vaccination policy which complicated the rollout, says Katie Dowson, director of digital for NHS Doncaster CCG & Integrated Care Partnership. “Being able to invite hundreds of thousands of patients with a click of a mouse to a vaccine appointment compared to that job as a manual piece of work was transformational for us,” says Dowson.
The startup has pulled off the tricky task of gaining traction for its freemium communication tools with a small but important segment of the sprawling NHS, and has a chorus of supporters among Twitter-savvy doctors. AccuRx has now raised $38 million (£28 million) in a Series B round from Lakestar, British Patient Capital, and Atomico, with a plan to build on its GP tools and plug them into hospitals, outpatient clinics, and pharmacies. The valuation this round was raised against was not disclosed by AccuRx.
“We think we have done a fantastic job with GPs but they are a small fraction of the 1.3 million NHS staff so for us, our biggest goal is moving across to those other users. There is so much impact left,” says Laurence Bargery, cofounder and CTO of AccuRx. “We hope that we can save them time and once that’s established, we can start connecting our user base in hospitals and GPs and powering better communication which has this higher-level benefit of much better patient care, and hopefully better outcomes.”
The pandemic has hit a fast-forward button for virtual medicine for family doctors in the U.K. after the NHS ordered its 7,000 neighborhood clinics to shift to online consultations in March 2020. That move has provided a major boost not just for AccuRx, but for Swedish rival Livi, Push Doctor and Babylon Health, which provides digital GPs for around 90,000 NHS patients and announced it would go public via a SPAC with a $4.2 billion valuation in June.
The lifting of Covid restrictions in the U.K. has seen many family doctors revert to in-person consultations but the benefits from connecting patients digitally with clinics remained, says Haddad. Video consultations, however, were overhyped and the real value for doctors was in follow-up SMS texts and secure image sharing with patients. “In most cases, it doesn’t add a lot more value than a phone, but it does add a lot more faff,” he says. “I think it’s just very easy to understand, and easy for politicians to set goals around.”